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Spiritual Quests — “Deliciously Druidic”   1 comment

“What … is your name?” asks the Bridgekeeper. “What … is your quest?” Monty Python and the Holy Grail is definitely onto some truths about the cosmos, veiled in the form of humour, a potent magic. Looking for a Noble Quest? It will demand of us an account of who we are and what we seek. Do we really know? Can we answer truly?

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When does the excitement of the Quest of our lives first dim? We set off, full of a consuming certainty that This is It. The Big One, whatever it is. Sooner or later, though, we run smack into some kind of Wall. Our first Obstacle. (All the Great Quests include them!) Often enough, it takes on the form of a Rule. We face a “No”. A Can’t, Shouldn’t, Mustn’t. Often, human life being what it is, the Rule comes to us through a person. Our Bridgekeeper of the Moment stands before us.

Enough people have turned away from — and been turned off by — “rule-religions” and the “morality police” that it can sometimes come as a surprise to encounter any mention of spiritual law apart from the dogma and doctrine of a particular faith group. Yet a successful Quest navigates via spiritual law — navigates it with style, with flair, with panache. We instinctively respond to a good quest story because it “rings true”. Its spiritual melody harmonizes with something deep within us.

Windham Pinnacle Trail. A Golden Path to …

We’re usually not surprised by the existence of physical laws, like Newton’s laws of motion that govern the movement of physical bodies. In our first dozen years on the planet we typically pick up enough firsthand experience with gravity, acceleration, mass, and so on, even if we don’t call them by those names, so that by the time we start to operate cars and trucks we don’t (usually) have to start from scratch and repeatedly crash into trees, walls, or other vehicles just to learn how to drive.

Indeed, we spend our first years falling down, getting knocked over, getting up again, bumping into things, getting hurt and recovering, because we often learn best by doing. (The trick of good parenting is letting that happen under reasonably safe circumstances.) We may then spend the next several decades learning (or not learning) how to apply versions of the same lessons to our relationships, jobs, goals and dreams. Yes, our lives provide such good material for song lyrics and film scripts that we should all get a cut of the box office proceeds and royalties.

For example, at some point I may find myself pondering old proverbs such as ‘birds of a feather flock together’ and ‘like attracts like’. I run into some version of the law of harmony, or harmonics. By the time we arrive in our 20s or 30s, we’ve seen people careen from one bad relationship to another, while it can seem others ‘have all the luck’. We’ve also met enough exceptions to such proverbial wisdom, maybe in our own lives, that many situations we find ourselves in deserve more than a fixed or set response. Sometimes it can seem like “other laws are at work”. Often enough, we’re not wrong. When things “go our way”, we’re often going their way. We’ve aligned, however briefly, with a current, a larger flow in the cosmic stream. And that’s usually a pretty damn cool sensation — a kind of “effortless effort”, a sense of connection to something bigger.

View northwest from Pinnacle.

The Shape of the Quest

A helpful approach in studying spiritual law is one of curiosity and experimentation, an echo of the effortless effort. I don’t want to just listen uncritically at the outset to somebody else’s moralizing about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ — their version of “No” — mostly because it offers little more than just the kind of fixed or set response I mentioned above. Instead, I want to find out for myself what laws exist, how and when they operate and interact, and how I can work with them, like a sailor learns to sail with, across or down the wind. ‘When the winds blow, how do I go?’

Most formal moralities express a codified version of spiritual law. Too often, it’s one that’s either clumsily taught, or taught without imagination and human insight, taught hypocritically and humorlessly, or in ignorance of its underlying purpose. Someone “holds the the rules over us”, rather than setting them down so we can stand on them to reach the stars. Good teaching liberates rather than confines. It opens up possibilities and new pathways, rather than shutting them down. The old insight that “the truth shall set you free” means spiritual law is for our benefit and growth, not for our limitation and restriction. We learn the steps so we can dance — we learn the notes to join the song.

What makes our quests so deliciously Druidic is that “we can look to the world of nature around us for help in understanding our own nature, recognizing that if a theory about the nature of the universe proves to be a mistake when tested against the world around us, it will also prove to be a mistake when applied to the world within us … ‘the visible is for us the measure of the invisible'” (Greer, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, pg. 15).

To put it another way, my life is my laboratory, my studio, my garden, my craft space, my canvas.

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“It is difficult/”

to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

OK, W. C. Williams, I’ll bite. What’s “the news”? What is it that’s “found there” in poems and songs? Is it really different — better — more necessary — than other things, found in other places? If it is, how can you — or I — trust it?

How we answer these questions (any Bards worth their salt pose difficult ones) goes far to showing us for what we are, where we find what we need, and whether any number of us are dying from a lack of it.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could — at last! — track down that skittish, reluctant poem, lasso it, corral it, hog-tie it and get it to give up its … what?

For all its seeming colloquial innocence, the poem fragment threatens to stalk mythic ground. More about that in a bit.

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There’s a funny, wry essay (if you’re into actually reading things called “essays”!) called “The Arrogance of Poetry”, by Mark Halliday. (It appeared almost two decades ago now, in the Georgia Review in 2003. Here’s a Jstor link to the first page of it, where you can get a taste, and see if you want to sign in and read the rest of it for free.)

Halliday speaks a common truth: “We are romantics: we keep expecting the marvelous ___ that will change our lives. We try to ___ intelligently, even skeptically, but we are ready to fall in love”.

Fill in the blanks from your own experience. Versions, versions. It’s no surprise that Halliday’s has “poem” and “read”, but I suspect you can do better, because it’s your life we’re talking about, after all.

Right now — Sunday, a sunny afternoon in late February, my belly reasonably full of a very late breakfast of eggs and toast — I’d fill the two blanks with “insight” and “live”: “We keep expecting the marvelous insight that will change our lives. We try to live intelligently, even skeptically …”

Maybe you write “deity” and “worship”. Or perhaps for you it’s “person” and “date”, or “high” and “use”. If you’re flush with cash, it could even be “decorator” and “remodel”, or “designer” and “dress”.

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Poem, song, Other, Grail. We storm the castle, only to find it empty and cold. We hold the Grail in our hands, but then fail to recognize it before we set it down and walk away. Perceval, Lancelot, Galahad. Guinevere, Elaine, Isolde. So many stories.

Tennyson writes:

Then move the trees, the copses nod,
Wings flutter, voices hover clear
“O just and faithful knight of God!
Ride on! the prize is near”.

Yes. Always over the next hilltop, around the next curve. A sensible Druid might sit down and stretch out under the trees, instead, and listen to those wings, voices, leaves. Who knows who will get “there” sooner?

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The “daily practice” I’m always yammering about is one of the few things I know for sure.

I bring the bowl to the Fountain, hold it out, and once again it fills. It’s not much, just a modest bowl, rough pottery, nothing fancy, carrying enough for a deep drink, or a day’s cooking. Tomorrow I’ll need to refill it. When I bring it inside, I set it by a window. Sometimes the sun glitters on the surface of the water. Then the sparkle flashes across the opposite wall, blinding bright for a moment.

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I bring in the sheet of metal I’ll use to incise the runes of storm that Thecu asked for. I’d left the gray metal tilted against a stone in the backyard, a landmark in case a storm came and covered it before I’d fetched it in. Across the stone surface, a tracery of lichens — some green from snowmelt — say nothing.

Posted 23 February 2020 by adruidway in Druidry, grail, spiritual practice, spiritual quest

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Thirty Days of Druidry 24: Playing the Druid Card

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Could I be the Mage,
or might I be the Fool?
Should we learn to use our cards
like any kitchen tool?

When I search for wisdom,
when I peruse old lore,
do I seek just kicks and tricks
or something worth much more?

Is my quest a question,
things I already know,
or an “undiscovered country”
I rediscover as I grow?

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If “playing the _____ – card” means to take (unfair) advantage of some given of our identities, what might it mean to play the Druid card? Well, it certainly gains us nothing with either the gods or local land spirits.

Druid-card Holder (DCH): “Hey! I’m a Druid!”

Land Wight (LW): “Welcome. Have you listened to the land, spent time hearing what it has to teach, growing a portion of your own food on it, and feeling how each season and its energies shape the lives of all the creatures on it, including you? Have you, in four words, lived where you live?”

DCH: Well, no …

LW: Go away and do not return until you learn reverence.


“I invoke you, goddess, for a change.”

Let me try again. If I live where I’ve lived, rather than almost anywhere else, I accept the gift of responsibility. Usually the word sounds heavy — something people try to flee rather than to welcome. But let me do my Bard word trick once more. I know I’ve often walked away from my response-ability, my ability to respond. I turn it off, drown it out, change channels, either because it’s painful or too demanding or or or. Third time’s the charm: find three or’s and I can successfully escape my ability to respond and maybe spend my whole life in someone else’s dream rather than one of my own. Success!

I often explore my own “weaknesses” because I find I learn more from them than from my strengths. (“Could that be one of their uses?! Hmm.”) We’re so accustomed to others being down on themselves that you may hear this as more of the same. No. I gain strength and insight from such cool, steady gaze. Don’t misunderstand. I’m as good at denial, deflection and depression as the next fellow. A 3-D life! A modern Western triad!

But what I want to get better at are the finely-tuned opportunities my weaknesses constantly point me toward. Lack something, and I sensitize myself to it everywhere around me. My lack magically energizes the thing to keep knocking at the door of my life. But rather than turning to my ability to respond, my responsibility, I do everything to reject the thing I said I wanted. But no worries, mate: it doesn’t actually vanish. It will keep knocking until I let it in. “Ask (I keep asking all the time) and it will be given to you; seek (we never really give up seeking, just take breaks for a day or a decade) and you will find; knock (oh, how it will knock back, friend!) and the door will be opened to you.”*


Bala Lake in Wales, where Gwion Bach begins his adventure of transformation

More and more it seems that rather than missed opportunities, there are only ones I keep rejecting. If I really do “miss” one, it will re-group and when necessary take another form in order to reappear down the road and insert itself into my life. Come around the next turn and — ah! There it is, possibly in a guise more difficult to ignore, less easy to escape at all.

My fate pursues me like yours does you, like Ceridwen pursues Gwion through all his transformations. I might even evade my fate for a life or two, come back in another body, gender, set of circumstances, with a “clean slate” so to speak. Except not really. My one life is with me, my responsibility sharpens, clarifies, till I can live it fully, because there’s nothing else I can do, even if I wanted to.

That’s one corner of my “Druid card” — at least, living where I’ve lived, as I understand it so far. What’s yours?

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When I respond, link, connect, then I “beltane.” Let’s make it verb … Not to cheapen it, market it, no. To sanctify it. And you, my kin, my readers, when you last beltaned, what did you discover?

“Beltane is so much about the urge to connect, to blend and merge; to feel a part of something extraordinary; to at once lose one’s sense of self in that merging but also to paradoxically feel more absolutely and truly oneself because of it. In the desire to penetrate life’s mysteries, we need also to open ourselves to them, surrendering to the power of love that it may have the opportunity to transform us. Great things are born in us at such moments of union; this place of merging is where the tap root of our creativity feeds, without it we feel dry and disconnected. If that magical, alchemical moment of connection and merging were a colour, I suspect it might be perceived as many beautiful, vibrant shades but its foundation, I feel sure, would be the green of spring: ecstatically joyful – the irrepressible life and desire that leads us to love.” — Maria Ede-Weaving

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IMAGES: Ceridwen Centre logoBala Lake.

*Matthew 7:7 — an excellent Druidic number!

Updated 9 May 2016

Thirty Days of Druidry 2: Targets for Humanness

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“Microcosm” — Mike Fletcher photography

We look for things that will acknowledge and value and nurture the overflowing spirit that is our humanity at its best. We literally grow larger than one self in our relationships with other beings. This isn’t merely a lonely, impotent and mortal self desperately seeking an echo, a mirror, before the dark comes on, though that can be one part of it. Our curiosity and empathy mean we can feel ourselves into the oddest and most splendid corners of the universe. And then keep going even further. Because we can. But just as much because those corners are there, endlessly inviting. The cosmos beckons. “House made of dawn,” says the Navaho night chant, “house made of the evening twilight …”

Of course, other humans offer a ready first “target” for this quest. We fall in love, we bond, we befriend, we seek connection. What’s remarkable to me is not the number of times we face disappointment or disaster in our human relationships. You might almost expect that, given the universe around us where fish spawn and the majority perish before reaching adulthood. Nestlings don’t all make it. Flowers and trees cast thousands of potential offspring to earth and wind and water, and how many survive?

But the number of times things actually go well can astonish. Life, quite simply, abounds. It beats the odds. And even looking narrowly for a moment at just the human world, at friends, family, co-workers, allies, strangers who perform those random kindnesses — well, live among other humans and we can strike you as a varied and quarrelsome bunch at times, to be sure, but more remarkable still for wanting to connect, to be counted, to know and be known. And we talk endlessly about it all, thinking words will bring us together. Sometimes, surprisingly, they do.

And the natural world? Both womb and tomb, it still manages to be other enough that our super-enlarged brains have plenty to do to figure out whether we do or don’t really “belong.” Hence the need for wisdom, for something more than the givens of a human life: birth, food, sleep, learning, sex, work, play, illness, joy and death. Because to the question “Is that all there is?” the answer is almost always “No.” That “no” is so reliable, in fact, that things like Druidry provide marvelous tools for exploring the “all that is.” But if Druidry or Plan B doesn’t happen to work for you, by all means find (or make) something that does.


Yevgeny Zamyatin

We can go and quite readily have gone to other people’s faiths and ideologies and isms that offer answers and creeds and dogmas. But we can also look, more provocatively and more productively, for great questions. As the Russian writer and philosopher Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937) remarked, “Dealing with answered questions is the privilege of brains constructed like a cow’s stomach, which, as we know, is built to digest cud.” Foolish questions are a risk along such a path, of course, but they are only “foolish to a civilized man who has a well-furnished European apartment with an excellent toilet and a well-furnished dogma.” Better a few foolish questions along with many more useful ones. And far better than no questions at all. Yes, that’s next door to a dogma in my book, if you want to know.

“In a storm,” Zamyatin observes, “you must have a man aloft. We are in the midst of storm today, and SOS signals come from every side.”* It’s no accident that new forms of spirituality sprang into existence over the last 50 years or so. From a Druid perspective, you might say, like a bird or bush moving into a new ecosystem, a niche opens and life explores it for fit, changing it or changing itself. Or both. A trust in the power of spirit to manifest new forms at need is one of the gifts of Druidry. And the lifelong learning to work with that spirit and those forms is a fitting Druidic quest.

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Image: “Microcosm” — Mike Fletcher photographyZamyatin.

*Zamyatin, Yevgeny. On Literature, Revolution, Entropy and Other Matters. 1923. The translations here appear in Ginsburg, Mirra, A Soviet Heretic : Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1970).

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